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Look it up on Wikipedia

Apr 30, 2010
Anthony Transou

Look it up in the encyclopedia on Wikipedia.
 
If your Internet searches are anything like mine, you may frequently get search results near the top of your list labeled “Wikipeida, the free encyclopedia.” And while getting information from a free encyclopedia sounds like a good deal, it helps to understand what Wikipedia is.
 
Straight from the introduction:
Wikipedia (pronounced /?w?k?'pi?di.?/ WIK) is a -i-PEE-dee-?multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly-editable model. … Wikipedia's articles provide links to guide the user to related pages with additional information.
Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption and/or vandalism)…
 
In other words, Wikipedia is written by people who think it is entertaining to learn stuff and share it online, and have the time to do just that. In fact, you can write or edit Wikipedia entries if you’d like. 
 
Because of this, there are a couple things to keep in mind when you go there for information.
The site requires outside sources, meaning entries are usually pretty accurate. In fact, Wikipedia is often considered an acceptable source for high school research papers, and false information gets pulled off the site pretty quickly.
 
However, general opinion often influences entries a lot more than it did those dusty Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on your bookshelf, which means you have to be aware of “popular culture” bias. For example, you can see a bit of that bias in entries like herbicide or the environment section of ethanol fuel.

So, the next time you are searching for Pythium or drip irrigation, you’ll know what the Wikipedia entry is. Have you ever contributed to it?
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